GUEST OPINION: Plenty of room for election improvements

Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - 14:12

Retired Judge Daniel Hensley found no evidence of fraud or corruption in the 2012 Anchorage municipal election. That’s good, because what he did find — or rather confirm — was bad enough.

He cited inexperience and neglect as the primary causes for the ballot shortfall in the April election that had precinct workers scrambling, voters angry and elections officials fumbling the response.

There’s no reason to dispute the election results. The margins were simply too wide. Without evidence or fraud or conspiracy, Anchorage residents can be confident that the results reflected the will of a majority of voters.

But that legitimacy comes in spite of the way this election was run, not because of it. Had the counts been close, we might still be trying to figure out the results.

We did have voters disenfranchised and/or mightily inconvenienced and frustrated. The galling thing about that is that the city has run elections many times before without such woes. Why did this one go awry?

The two individuals most responsible for running the election — Municipal Clerk Barbara Gruenstein and her deputy, Jacqueline Duke, no longer have their jobs. Duke was fired; Gruenstein resigned.

Hensley wrote that Gruenstein was a “hands-off” manager on the election and that Duke seemed to take the attitude that having been through two elections, she could take the process for granted. She didn’t heed warnings from staffers, didn’t take into account higher turnouts with the gay rights question and mayor’s race on the ballot, and apparently commented that running an election wasn’t hard work...

Hensley’s recommendations for training and troubleshooting in the future are sound. His report warns against hands-off management, urges the clerk’s office officials to learn from other jurisdictions and to make sure staffing is sufficient during election season. He also recommends the Assembly keep better tabs on the clerk’s office.

We disagree with his argument against having each precinct stocked with enough ballots to cover 70 percent of its registered voters. He agrees with the 70 percent, but says having extra ballots stored at a few hubs around town should suffice.

Why add another step? Supply each precinct with its 70 percent, and the ballot shortage problem goes away. Hensley argues that handling the excess ballots would be a “burden” to already busy election workers. Not so. Election workers, particularly chairs, deal with excess ballots as a routine part of their work after the polls close. There’s little practical difference between 50 excess ballots and 200 excess ballots. Election workers can handle it.

More importantly, ballots will be there when voters show up to vote, without the delay of a troubleshooter’s trip from hub to precinct.

Those responsible for the 2012 election paid with their jobs. Their successors responsible for 2013 should spare us the drama and make sure every voter gets a ballot. Free, fair and smooth elections don’t just happen. Election officials need to make sure they do.


— Anchorage Daily News

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